“I’ll be right back” and you get up from the table and head across Applebee’s to the men’s room.  Pushing the door open you see two grown men, one in front of the touchless faucet and one in front of the touchless towel dispenser, standing there waving their hands to produce the same water and paper towels that their grandfathers would have received by turning a handle or pulling down and ripping off a towel.  I guess that even though the US is no longer working on putting a man on the moon we continue to enjoy the fruits of the space program.

But you know that the touchless appliances were designed to reduce the transmission of disease causing microbes (from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention– Keeping hands clean through improved hand hygiene is one of the most important steps we can take to avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others).  What great inventions.  You walk into the restroom and use the facilities (touchless flush because some people won’t flush) and just by waving you wash (touchless soap dispenser and faucet) and dry your hands (touchless towel dispenser).  Your hands are microbe free until you pull the restroom door handle which has been touched by people who can’t be bothered to wash their hands (there are stories of people standing in restrooms yelling for help in order to have the door pushed open to avoid touching the dirty handle).  Doesn’t it seem that there is something missing here, something wrong?  Obviously we could recall laid off NASA scientists to work on a touchless door opener and that would be good for those who do wash but it doesn’t address the people who don’t wash their hands.

Signs don’t seem to work. We could take a cue from our friends in other lands and cut off the hands of those who don’t wash but that might seem a little extreme.  We could assign armed guards to make sure that hands are washed but that could get expensive. We are the United States of America; can we tap into the greatness of the nation?  We have the talent but do we have the will?  Is it simply a matter of putting the right people together like we did with the Manhattan Project which developed the atom bomb and the Apollo program which put a man on the moon?  This isn’t nuclear physics or rocket science, it’s simple hygiene.   Maybe the president can create a commission with a clean hands czar.  This sounds like something for one of our national treasures.  Einstein, Edison and Salk are gone but we still have Ron Popeil.  The computers running the flush mechanism, soap dispenser, faucet and towel dispenser could be linked so that if hands are not washed a siren goes off and an announcement is made to the other patrons—“caution, caution, please stand back, unsanitary person exiting restroom, caution”.  But hey, that’s just my idea; let’s see what Ron and a few hundred billion dollars can do.

Or, and this might seem way out there, we could work to recreate the civility that we knew as a nation not that many years ago.  People who speak without using vulgar and profane language and who are polite to one another are people who respect their fellow citizens enough to wash their hands.  People who say “please and thank you” and who are courteous to others are civilized enough to flush a toilet and wash their hands.

We are talking about preventing disease and saving lives by doing something as simple as washing hands; just washing our hands and we cannot seem to get a significant portion of the population to act as civilized human beings.  Why do I fear that a nation which set and met goals in the past cannot rise to this challenge of improving hygiene and preventing illness by hand washing?  This is more than just a problem of dirty hands.


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